The Coronavirus lockdown has led to a devastating effect on children in many parts of Bihar. Having, all government schools in Bihar remained closed as the pandemic broke out in India in March. With the schools having shut and with no mid-day meal being provided, the children from below the poverty line (BPL) families in Bhagalpur district of Bihar have been forced to sell scrap or beg to get one square meal a day.
There are some Mahadalit families (marginalized sections among the Schedule Castes of Bihar) in Badbilla Mushari Tola of Bhagalpur have started begging at a nearby market to arrange for their one square meal a day. Before the lockdown mid- meals were given to the students but now with the schools closed no mid-day meal and they are forced to sell junk or beg and now the monsoon added more to their problem. The fight against hunger for children in the Mahadalit villages has intensified after the lockdown.
A resident of Mushari Tola said, “Schools are still closed but earlier we used to go to school, children used to get food. The children are no longer getting mid-day meals.” Another resident said, “We used to beg for food after lockdown but now the rainy season has come and we are not even going to beg,” as reported by India Today. At school children were served rice, dal, soya, vegetables daily and egg is given only on Fridays. But now this source of nutrition has vanished. Ravaged by poverty and discrimination, Mushari Tola has a population of 1,000 and most of the villagers are engaged either in waste collection or begging to survive. At Mushari Tola there are no pucca houses or Swacch Bharat Abhiyan toilets. Every day the women had to face the angry farmers who chase them away, and the absence of the school, each child now goes to beg or collect waste earning Rs.10- 12 for plastic scrap.
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According to the Bhagalpur district administration, the Bihar government has been depositing money of mid-day meals in the account of all children since March 14. The administration says that Rs.114.21 has been deposited in the accounts of every child or their parents studying from Class 1 to 5 and Rs.171.17 has been deposited in the accounts of children or their parents from class 6 to 8. But the residents said they have not received this kind of help. However, the school teachers say it is a very meager amount that is going towards feeding children. Anjani Kumar, a teacher at the MS Madhyamika Vidyalaya, Khurd Kajraili, a government-run school on the outskirts of Bhagalpur said, “Most of the these children come from very poor families. Money which is often sent to their accounts for school uniforms and when you ask the children where their new uniforms are, they say their parents had to use the money. The mid- day meal was the sole reason why they came to school.”
Now the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued notice to the Chief Secretary of Bihar and the Union Human Resource Ministry in this matter and has asked for a report within four weeks. Taking cognizance of the Bhagalpur case, the Bihar government also issued a new circular on Monday, increasing the amount to be deposited in the accounts of the children for the months of May, June, and July. Now, Rs.358 will be transferred in the bank accounts of children or parents from class 1 to 5 and Rs.536 to children or parents from class6 to 8.